Review: No Cosign Records Compilation, V1 

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Independent Indianapolis hip-hop has been thriving in 2015, so this fall provided the perfect stage for the launch of No Cosign Records, which joined the city’s ranks of independent record labels in early September. To commemorate the occasion, founder Sean Stuart –– also the founder of website Bringing Down the Band –– released a sampler, No Cosign Records Compilation, V1, featuring some of his mostly Midwestern roster’s best work.

The tape kicks off with an instrumental from AL GO RYTHMIC called “Dusty,” one of the several wordless tracks that soak up most of the sampler’s spins. With boom-bap drums and an old-school sample, it couldn’t be more aptly named –– aside from some high-pitched accents, it doesn’t sound a day younger than “Illmatic.”

It’s also a fitting opener, then, because No Cosign’s roster largely embraces the sounds, aesthetics, and traditions of hip-hop’s 1990s golden age, and those effects litter the tape.

Two accomplished producers, Maja 7th and Bangers by One, bring the heat on a pair of the sampler’s best tracks.

Maja’s “Deal with It” flips an old soul sample in classic fashion for a “chicken-noodle soup” effect: a familiar taste –– er, sound –– that still feels great. Meanwhile, Bangers goes the opposite route, layering his samples atop some stilted, syncopated rhythms that evoke the loopier effects of MF Doom or J Dilla.

In terms of rap, ILL Brown, a veteran rapper and producer from Chicago’s Southside, drops the first bars of the sampler on “Suicide,” the third track. His production builds up tense strings and synths and, Brown laments his existential helplessness in a coarse, arresting delivery that creates quite a juxtaposition in contrast to his lyrical vulnerabilities.

V1 features more traditional, straight-spitting emcees like Brown or Gritts, a veteran rapper and musician from Anderson, Ind.. He closes the album with “Rewind,” a story of both internal and external struggle that’s perfectly placed. Gritts is also the only artist to place two tracks on the sampler, showing off his multi-instrumental skills on “Not There,” which could double as a surf-rock backing track as much as a hip-hop beat.

Mike Schpitz is the only other rapper featured, and he sounds much less like the other two. On “Feedback,” he uses a compact, nasally delivery with loopy rhymes and punchline boats over a minimalist beat of derivative snap sounds. His flavor is different comparatively, but it’s probably the closest thing on the tape to any of today’s popular rap styles.

Besides being the founder, Stuart performs on the label under the name of LONEgevity, and despite compiling the rest of the sampler, he’s responsible for the most dance-friendly track of the bunch, a spaced-out, slow-burning composition of reverberating synth and hand-claps, appropriately called "Daaaance.”

Between his song and his song selection, Stuart and No Cosign’s roster back up their promise of sonic diversity on the first compilation, and with such a variety of styles, they will surely be cooking up some interesting and unexpected collaborations for the future.


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